Friday, September 29, 2006

The Queen Isn't Dead, She's Just Busy

Once upon a time, I was the Queen of the Earth. Okay, not really the queen but certainly a legend in my own mind. My younger sister so nicknamed me in the heat of a battle when we were little. "You're not the queen of the earth, Kirsten!" she exclaimed. (Picture a fire hydrant with pig tails and a lisp if you really want the visual.)

Since then, I have jokingly been T.Q.O.T.E. for years. Before blogs existed, I had a website with a friend of mine that was a place to rant and vent and generally offer opinions on all things interesting to us. Deb designed this awesome logo - on the site, the crown even spun! was fun and it was a stress reliever but it wasn't a money maker and it wasn't the hit we envisioned when we created it. And so, like many things that seem like great ideas for people with unlimited time and resources, it went to the website graveyard in the sky.

I still affectionately sign emails to my family TQOTE - I wouldn't want anyone to think I have forgotten who I am. Or let them forget who I am. Yes, a legend in my own mind. The queen has a day job, a house full of laundry and dirty dishes, a pile of bills and a to do list a mile long. Where have all my subjects gone?

The Skinny on Fat in Rhode Island

Here's something interesting. Today, in the state of Rhode Island, 4.2% of all households do not have enough food to meet their basic needs. One out of every three people served by the Rhode Island Community Food Bank or a partner agency is a child younger than 18 years old. Seemingly in contrast, adult obesity rates in Rhode Island are at 19.5% and close to 10% of our high school students are overweight.

So, which is it? Is there too much food or not enough? Is there too much access to and emphasis on fast food, junk food and sedentary behaviors? How can the same community have people at both ends of the spectrum?

Obesity is not merely about an overabundance of food. It is not simply cured by removing or limiting access to food. To improve one's quality of health and increase the chances of sustained success, there is no simple fix - not abstaining from eating, fad dieting or launching an exercise regimen. It is a lifestyle choice to be healthy and it is a lifestyle change to make it happen. The changes should be subtle, gradual and so thoroughly repetitive in nature that they create reflex behaviors - as normal as brushing one's teeth or taking a daily prescription. Eventually, the best case scenario is one in which the person does not feel as though they are dieting or punishing themselves, but automatically exercising and modeling good behaviors and choices.

But, what if you can't afford to make those choices? What if you have to decide whether to pay rent or buy food? Pay utilities or buy food? There are currently 50,000 people in Rhode Island that qualify for but are not receiving assistance in the form of food stamps. Lack of access, understanding and education limits the number of people applying. If Rhode Island's food stamp participation were to grow at the rate of the national average it would amount to more than $30 million dollars for the local economy.

Rhode Island's hunger rate has grown in the past decade - so has the obesity rate. Both problems will require education, funding and community support to solve. Is one more important than the other? Are they mutually exclusive problems?

In a year of important elections, these two issues are non-partisan. The crises of hunger and obesity are indiscriminate. Very rarely will a politician be asked about topics other than economic development, the war in Iraq, gasoline prices, casinos, universal health care and education. But, maybe, this is the time to ask what our leaders see as the solutions to the problems that effect us all, directly and indirectly. Maybe, we should ask ourselves the same question - we are all pieces of the puzzle...the problems of the human condition in the state of Rhode Island.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Striking Off On My Own

As a Rhode Island resident, a career woman, a wife and mother of two children, I am constantly struggling to maintain a wholesome lifestyle. Time pressures, financial pressures, savvy marketing campaigns and probably a little bit of ignorance are the challenges that I, and so many of my peers face each day. Healthy living is an elusive goal that I try to achieve by any means possible – exercise programs, diet programs, internet research, word of mouth…

While there is a mini revolution trying to gain the attention of the American public, it is not yet strong enough to eradicate the years of bad living that so many of us have come to unconsciously. Television shows and movies like “Super Size Me,” and “Honey, We’re Killing the Kids,” serve as springboards for debate and conversation. Campaigns like Go Red for Women by the American Heart Association increase awareness and spread information. Friendly competitions and contests like Glaceau Vitamin Water’s Free Lunch Money educate our teens to the dangers of poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Backpack Clubs that are springing up throughout the nation strive to provide basic nourishment to the poorest children and families. All of these are honorable efforts, worthy of our support and admiration but still, we must do more.

I believe that the average citizen does possess the desire to improve his or her health, get fit, lose weight, and learn healthy eating habits. However, the perceived cost of this healthy lifestyle – in time, effort and dollars – causes most people to continue learned behaviors that have long term negative effects. We know that these individual actions impact our community as a whole as we continue to bear increased medical costs and business costs in employee absences.

We have the ability to reach every Rhode Islander. I see untapped avenues for spreading the word and increasing the public’s awareness and participation in this fight. I recently learned that there are more than 100 different agencies in this small state that have programs or efforts aimed at improving health and defeating obesity and its resulting diseases. Collaboratively, we can touch every person, young and old, big and small to provide the education, resources and tools necessary to, literally, save our lives.

Kirsten DiChiappari
Independent Consultant

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Appetizers and the Economy?

TGIF has come out with new appetizers. Fried macaroni and cheese and fried green beans, to name two. Call me crazy, but HOW exactly is this supposed to help Americans fight the fat? Granted, TGIF does have a menu with a few choices for Low Fat or Low Carb that don't look too bad. Without any nutritional information at our fingertips, we just make bad guesses. Green beans must be good, right? It is a vegetable, after all. Yeah, right.

Some restaurants have the information readily available to consumers. Either on the menu, on the website or even on a computer kiosk in the lobby. Uno's Chicago Grill puts the info on the menu and in the lobby. Of course, after we had dinner there recently, I browsed at the nutritional information while my husband hit the rest room. Turns out that he had eaten a burger with cheese and bacon that was 1,400 calories. It had 94 grams of fat. And 245 mg of cholesterol. If that wasn't bad enough, try 2,380 mg of sodium. When my husband came out, I wasn't sure I should even tell him. The look on his face when I did was one of fear and then, nausea. He couldn't believe that one meal could do that much harm. Who knew?

In 1998, the medical cost of obesity was $75 billion dollars, of which, about $39 billion was paid by the public. That amount covers the medical costs for the sicknesses related to obesity but doesn't even take into consideration the business impact due to absenteeism or lost productivity.

The food industry in this country generates more than $1 trillion dollars in annual sales and makes up 17% of the US labor force. In 1999, all food and food service companies spent a combined $11 billion dollars on direct media advertising expenditures. On the contrary, the USDA 5-a-Day program spent $3 million dollars. No wonder no one knows what to do.

On a given day, 40% of American adults eat out at a restaurant. Each one of us spends about $920 per person or $440 billion dollars a year on food eaten outside of the home.

Do you think that the food industry has a responsibility to consumers? Should they work to improve the lives of Americans by producing less damaging goods? Like the tobacco and alcohol industries, should they spend money educating people on eating responsibly? Should they care? Should the government step in to regulate things like direct advertising to children, mandatory worksite wellness programs or even nutritional content in foods?

Ayn Rand, renowned author of and the founder of the Objectivism movement, talks about "laissez-faire capitalism" in her works. Described as "let do, let go, let pass", it suggests a "free market" view of economics. The basic idea is that less government interference in private economic decisions such as pricing, production, consumption, and distribution of goods and services makes for a better (more efficient) economy.

Economist Adam Smith in his book 'Wealth of Nations' argued that the invisible hand of the market would guide people to act in the public interest by following their own self-interest, since the only way to make money would be through voluntary exchange, and thus the only way to get the people's money was to give the people what they want.

Do people want fried green beans and fried macaroni and cheese? Do they want hypertension and diabetes? Do they want a shorter life expectancy than the previous generation? Do you think we are all getting what we really want? I'm not so sure.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Black Outs, Memory Loss and Other Calorie Free Events

I went over to the gym today for a meeting. (Notice the phrase - for a MEETING. Not for a WORKOUT. Puh-lease.) Arthur and I followed the route for the event next week to review all the street crossings, potential danger zones, and the right places for exhibitors, refreshments and volunteers.

A brisk walk and a solid 25 minutes later I got back into my car and headed over to my office. The incident occured somewhere between my parking space and the front door of the building. I walked into the deli to grab a bottle of water. The next thing I know I am standing on the sidewalk with the water in one hand and a big honking chocolate chip cookie in the other. I don't remember how it happened. I don't know what I was thinking because I am pretty certain that I wasn't thinking. An evil force, like the serpent in the story of Adam and Eve, disguised as a cashier, must have done this to me. It's the only answer.

Even if that actually explained HOW the cookie came to be in my hand, there is no clear path to how it ended up in my mouth. Not one bite of it - or two. The whole f'n thing. Quietly, so as not to draw attention to it - so as not to alert the world to my secret. I'm a junk food junkie. I'm the crack whore in the candy aisle. This is my cry for help!

Is there a 12 step program for this problem? I've even tried to pass this addiction off as good for my health. "They are dark chocolate kisses. Dark chocolate is good for your heart. Therefore, this is good for me." Uh huh. Did you know that they make dark chocolate M&Ms now? They must have heard my prayers.

I remember a friend telling me once that she was going to open a restaurant where everyone stood over long counters and sinks...the way many of us grab a meal in this day and age. She also said that anything you eat standing has no calories. I think that this is from the same book that said that you can't get pregnant the first time you have sex. It's bulls**t and we all know it, but if it means that we can feel good now, we'll believe it.

You have to surf over to The Amazing Shrinking Mom blog. Just click on the title of this post because I linked it for you. This top 10 list of ways to get fat is CLASSIC. She has crawled to the bottom of the big bag of cotton candy with the worst of us and she knows all the tricks. She could be my SPONSOR. She's definitely my hero.

And with that confession, I'm spent. I need a snack. Uh oh...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I am a Club Mom member. Club Mom is a great community resource for women. There are message boards, blogs, articles and advice, advertisements and shopping links. Today I was reading a comment on the Childhood Obesity message board and felt compelled to respond.

Excerpts from the post...

"i've recently read an article about how the schools are being made now to make overweight children aware that it's not healthy to be fat. I know it's not, but why should overweight children be ousted by adults just because they are fat. They already have it rough with other children. No one takes the time to look that all of my children get good grades or are well-behaved...they just look at the fact the two have big stomachs so they automatically think they eat too much or eat unhealthy without taking into consideration it might be health problems or some otehr reason for it."

Basically, my reply...

We are all responsible for solving this problem and I prefer that no one person, business or entity take on all the blame for this epidemic. We can spend far too much time looking for the source of the problem then focusing on solving it. Children, in particular, are stigmatized for their appearances and whether the end results are poor health, depression or isolation, obesity must be addressed.

Schools are trying. Communities are trying. Organizations are trying. Please understand that this is an evolution - did you know that the state of Arkansas is the first and only in the nation to have stopped the increase in childhood obesity? This was a result of "report cards" coming home to parents that showed their children's BMI and indicated whether or not the children were at risk for problems or in immediate need of help. Just getting the information out to parents and families had a significant impact.

Solutions come from many different places - physicians, support groups, diet, exercise, medication, education, etc. There is no one answer to this problem but many opportunities for assistance. Please don't be discouraged by what you see - for every misstep that you witness, look for a program, resource or outlet that is meaningful to you in order to find a positive and successful outcome for your family.

Am I right?